"Japan is..."

It is the norm for the media and policymakers to divide the world up into different unitary states, sometimes called the Westphalian system after the peace treaty of 1648 that ended decades of fighting in continental Europe and affirmed the principle of territorial integrity whereby states recognize each other’s authority within their own geographical borders.

In media reporting, one interesting side-effect of this is for one country, such as ‘Japan’ to often be personified as a unitary whole. This makes it possible to write copy like “Japan wants cyborgs, will pursue open-skull surgery to get them” (http://dvice.com/archives/2008/04/japan_wants_cyb.php). It is a bit pedantic to point out that the ‘Japan’ in this sentence refers to a few specialist academics but it is interesting to consider this terminology.

Firstly, how many people expressing one opinion does it take to justify the ‘Japan’ label? 10% of the population? Less than 1% if there are over 10 politicians included? One person who the writer considers to be an authority?

In the past month, apparently:

“Japan loves low-tech handsets”

“Japan hopes to sell more to Chinese consumers”

“Japan wants to add copyright fee to ipods”

“Japan fights crowds of crows”

“Japan ponders reinvention as an international financial hub”

Of course, it is legitimate to refer to the affairs of a state or the general mood of the people by the state title but there are times when this can be problematic and it can be misrepresentative. Sometimes it glosses over internal debates and the very varied opinion of the players involved in each story. At others, it is used to express an emotional sentiment at some Japanese people’s political or commercial decisions: “Japan shuns UK power investment” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7350481.stm)

Other posts by Anna:


Japan is fed up with generalizing "Japan is..." articles.

Trust me on this.

More seriously, what is the message being sent when such copy is deemed acceptable for Japan when it would be unacceptable for Belgium or Uruguay?

Among your examples, the most valid generalized "Japan" is in the techwack article on the ipod fees. It is almost impossible to discern where the interests of the media conglomerates end and those of the Somusho begin.

Actually, MTC, this same usage is acceptable and in common use for just about every state out there. A visiting researcher when I was a graduate student did a project on this, showing how the anthropomorphising of countries is extended to give succinct descriptions of sometimes rather abstract relationships between states.

One of her examples was Belarus, Russia and Europe, where Belarusian newspapers would describe Belarus as the maiden, Russia as her abusive former boyfriend, and Europe as the charming, handsome but perhaps unreliable stranger.